Breakthrough for LGBT+ equality as Botswana decriminalises

Today the High Court in Botswana struck down sections of the penal code used to criminalise consensual adult same-sex intimacy in the country.


The provisions prohibiting “carnal knowledge of a person against the order of nature”, and the related seven-year prison term, were declared unconstitutional. Additionally, the offence of “gross indecency” was ruled to be incompatible with the constitution as applied to acts committed in private.


In protecting the constitutional rights of LGBT+ persons to dignity, liberty, privacy and equality, the High Court judges noted that, “any criminalisation of love or finding fulfillment in love dilutes compassion and tolerance.”


The 51 member organisations of The Commonwealth Equality Network celebrate this important legal victory and pay tribute to the tireless work of activists, organisations and communities across the country. TCEN are thrilled that Botswana now joins a growing list of countries which have recently decriminalised, including Angola, India and Trinidad & Tobago.


Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, Chair of The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) and Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND Sri Lanka, said: “We are delighted by the news today that Botswana joins other progressive countries in decriminalising consenting same-sex sexual relationships. Congratulations to TCEN members at LEGABIBO and their collaborative partners who have worked so hard to make decriminalisation a reality in their country.”


On the ruling, Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, CEO of LEGABIBO, TCEN’s member in Botswana, stated: “It has taken a long time for our community to be where it is. This incredibly life-changing decision, although it does not right all the wrongs done to individual members of the LGBT community, is a step towards restoring our dignity as human beings. The decision has several implications for the LGBTIQ community. Not only does it provide legal affirmation and recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ persons, but it allows an important space for addressing public health issues more efficiently and effectively. We can finally start building a more tolerant society. The real work starts now.”


TCEN Africa Regional Representative and Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda Frank Mugisha further expressed: “Homosexuality is not un-African; we have said this many times and I am happy the court in Botswana has recognised us as LGBTI+ Africans. Congratulations to my colleagues in Botswana who have worked so hard for this victory.”


Over 70 countries still criminalise same-sex intimacy, over half of which are Commonwealth member states and many of which were exported by Britain during the colonial era. In April, as a result of campaigning by TCEN member organisations, British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her “deep regret” for this history. Recent years have seen a number of progressive rulings on decriminalisation and Botswana’s send an important message across the region, the continent and the world.


LEGABIBO’s press release can be found here.

June 11, 2019